Kids are resilient.
As a child psychologist, one of the most frequent things I say to parents is “Kids are resilient.” Over and over, I remind parents that children move on quickly, bounce back from struggle, and adjust to change. In most cases, much more quickly that we do as adults.
As parents, I think we often fret about getting every single decision right. We over-emphasize some things and under-emphasize others. “Should she be allowed to skip the music recital if she doesn’t want to go?” “I know he lied about forgetting his homework…should I punish him?” “He said halfway through the season that he doesn’t want to do it anymore…should I force him even if he has anxiety about it?”
We worry that one miss-step will lead to our kids…
- …getting into “big trouble.”
- …being made fun of.
- …missing something.
- …ending up in prison.
- …becoming a pathological liar.
All parents want their children to grow up to be well-adjusted, happy people. And each decision we make as parents make us feel like we have this huge pressure to get it all right.
But guess what?
Kids are resilient. While we don’t want to mess EVERY decision up, most of the things that we, as parents, become really anxious about really don’t matter that much to kids. More often, it is OUR fear of looking bad to others that messes us up.
“Should she be allowed to skip the music recital if she doesn’t want to go?”
MAYBE. In the big picture, how important is the recital? Will she fail the class? Will it “look bad” if she isn’t there? Who does it matter more to, you or her?
Many of you will allow your anxiety to catapult you to the thought of… “Well, if I let her skip this one, I am giving in and she will want to skip all of them.” (Or some other possible outcome in the future… “She will turn into a slacker” or “She never wants to do anything, she is going to turn into a hermit.” I know this is what happens, because I have heard it time and again from parents I have worked with. We take these isolated incidences with our kids and allow anxiety to convince us that this ONE decision will turn them into horrible people.
It won’t. Because kids are resilient.
Allowing her to have her voice heard and ‘skip’ the recital may HELP her feel understood by you. Giving her the freedom to have control of this situation may allow her to use her voice later in life as well. Think about it. Sure…she may ask to skip the next school function if you let her skip this one. And when that day comes, you may make a different decision as a parent. And guess what? She will adjust to THAT decision when it comes.
Because kids are resilient.
They adjust. They move on.
“I know he lied about forgetting his homework…should I punish him?”
PROBABLY…but maybe not HARSHLY. First, we have to look at the big picture again. Does he have a history of lying? Are you setting him up to lie? Is he at an age when lying is an age-appropriate behavior (even if it is still ‘wrong’)?
Depending on the age, lying is a developmentally appropriate behavior. Kids learn to lie because it is a developmental milestone. If you meet someone who tells you they have never told a lie, tell them they are lying!
We all lie. Big lies and small lies.
It doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just makes it reality. And when we punish our kids for something that is developmentally where they are, it can have more negative consequences than positive ones.
I know I am not making friends when I say some parents, myself included, set kids up to WANT to lie. Consider this. For most kids, getting into trouble is not a positive experience. Most kids want to avoid getting into trouble. Don’t you?!? I know I don’t love being in trouble.
So the real question is…are you creating a culture of absolute acceptance? A relationship with them that is built on them KNOWING that no matter what they do or say, you will not shame them, make them feel bad, or hurt them (physically or emotionally).
Do you start your questioning of them with “Is there anything you want to tell me??” or “Did you REALLY forget your homework AGAIN?!?”
Stop to think about it. If your boss asked you these questions, in these ways, what is the likelihood that you will WANT to lie? For most people, it would be a high likelihood for dishonesty. Because the manner in which the questions are asked already suggests the child is in trouble.
Instead, consider building a culture and relationship of absolute acceptance. Start with: “I talked to your teacher today and she said that you forgot your homework again. Tell me what happened.”
Do you notice the difference??
Aren’t you much more likely to get an honest response if you ask this way??
Don’t try to ‘catch them’ in a lie. Trust me, you will catch them almost every time. But is that really what you want? For most people, we don’t want to catch them in a lie. We want to know the truth.
So if you really want the truth, try asking for the truth in a way that is more likely to elicit it from your kids.
Have you struggled with trying to ‘catch them’ in the past?
Don’t worry…kids are resilient!
“He said halfway through the season that he doesn’t want to do it anymore…should I force him even if he has anxiety about it?”
MAYBE. Go back to the first example because much of the responses would be similar. Even if he has anxiety about it now, it doesn’t mean he will need prescription medication for eternity. Don’t allow every decision to turn YOU into an anxious mess.
And remember…kids are resilient!